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Brazil cardinal says no Catholic change on celibacy

Written by: Staff

VATICAN CITY, Dec 5 (Reuters) A Brazilian cardinal recently named to head the Vatican department overseeing the world's Catholic priests today played down a remark he made suggesting the Church might review its insistence on celibacy.

''I have no new doctrine on priestly celibacy. I just say what the doctrine of the Church says. Obviously, it is the Pope who guides the Church,'' said Cardinal Claudio Hummes yesterday.

Hummes was talking to reporters at Rome airport after comments on celibacy he made at the weekend in Brazil caused a stir in the Italian media, major newspapers putting them on their front pages.

''Even though celibates are part of Catholic history and culture, the Church can reflect on the issue because celibacy is not a dogma but a form of discipline,'' he was quoted as saying in an interview with a Brazilian newspaper.

But at the airport and later in a statement issued by the Vatican press office, Hummes played down the interview, saying the Church was not considering any change for the time being. Hummes is the former archbishop of Sao Paolo.

''It is also clear that the celibacy norm for priests in the Latin (Western) Church is very ancient and rests on a consolidated tradition with strong motivations of both a theological-spiritual nature and a practical and pastoral one that has been reaffirmed by the popes,'' he said.

''Therefore, the issue is not right now part of the agenda for Church authorities ...'' his statement said.

Priests were permitted to marry during the first millennium, but marriage was condemned by the Church at the Second Lateran Council in 1139.

The Roman Catholic Church insists that its priests remain celibate and has ruled out letting them marry, which advocates say would make some men more willing to join the priesthood and ease the shortage of priests in many parts of the world.

Last month the Vatican reaffirmed celibacy for priests after Pope Benedict and top aides held a special meeting to discuss requests by married priests to return to the active ministry.

Celibacy has re-emerged as a hot issue in the Church in the past few months, since African Archbishop Emanuel Milingo founded a movement of men who left the active ministry to wed and want to return as married men.

Milingo, a former Vatican official, raised the spectre of a modern schism when he ordained four married men as priests in Washington DC in September. The Vatican excommunicated him.

Milingo rejects his excommunication and is planning a convention for more than 1,000 married priests -- and their wives -- in New York for December 8-10.

Pope Benedict appointed Hummes in October to head the Congregation for the Clergy, which oversees matters regarding the 400,000 Catholic priests and some aspects of religious education.


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